I am absolutely delighted that the fine folks at NIS have put so much effort into re-releasing some of the older games in their back catalogue recently. The Prinny Presents series has put all manner of great games into the hands of gamers everywhere, from Makai Kingdom to La Pucelle, and they still hold up all these years later. Not content with releasing PS1 and PS2 classics NIS have truly outdone themselves with Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles, which includes two titles in the Rhapsody series I didn’t even know existed.
The original Rhapsody was released on the PS1, but it also released on the DS and as part of Prinny Presents Volume 3. Featuring adorable protagonist Cornet, you adventured across the land and used your magical powers to control puppets that helped you in combat. It was a fairly simple game with a cute story and adorable characters, and the sequels follow suit.
In Rhapsody II: Ballad of the Little Princess you play as Cornet’s daughter Kururu, who is getting old enough to want to escape the castle she grew up in and find her prince charming. After a life of luxury and pampering in the castle, Kururu doesn’t really understand that she can’t just do whatever she wants on her adventure which gets her into some wacky and generally amusing situations. Don’t go in expecting an epic story full of emotional moments and tragic deaths, but for what they are, the Rhapsody games are ever so charming.
The turn-based combat in these Rhapsody games doesn’t ever break the mould, but it’s fun in its own right. Each member of your party can attack, defend, or use one of a number of special abilities. To use a special attack you’ll have to sacrifice some of your HP (like in a Shin Megami Tensei game but without the demonic creatures or the apocalyptic setting) but it’s often worth it to deal massive damage to a bunch of enemies.
As well as attacking with your party members themselves, you can also summon any puppets they have equipped to fire off an attack or heal. Instead of costing HP, these cuddly helpers demand a bit of cash to come and help you deal with any smiling mushrooms or slimes that want to beat you up. The best part about equipping puppets though is that just by placing them on a character they’ll give you some big ole stat boosts, so even if you’re strapped for cash gathering and levelling up these adorable allies is well worth doing.
Above anything else, the best thing about Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles is the music. These games have a joyous and catchy soundtrack full of la la las and light-hearted melodies. The very best moments of the game are when the characters unexpectedly burst into song, which although sung in Japanese have subtitles to let you know that our lovely protagonist is belting out a ballad about finding her one true love.
Because the games included in Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles haven’t been released in the west before, it’d be totally reasonable to expect some subtitles for us English speakers and not a lot more. NIS decided that wouldn’t be good enough though, and added English voice acting to these old PS1 games. It’s a really nice touch, and just shows that NIS are willing to go above and beyond to make their classic titles available in the best possible form for their fans.
Alongside these audio additions, the games also have some spruced up text to make reading all that dialogue a little more palatable. Although the rest of the visuals are still made up of the same lower resolution sprites from back in the day, it’s amazing how well they hold up in 2023. Sure when the camera zooms out a bit the environments are a bit blurry and backdrops are reused sometimes, but not a lot of PS1 games are as pretty as Rhapsody.
The biggest complaint I have regarding Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles comes from comparing the gameplay to more modern RPGs. I played most of this game after I finished writing up my Sea of Stars review, and going back to something so much less refined was rather jarring. With 2023 full of phenomenal turn-based RPGs like Octopath Traveller 2 and Cassette Beasts, it’s hard to ask people to spend their time and money on a collection of games that just aren’t on that level.
The fact that Rhapsody: Marl Kingdom Chronicles exists makes me extremely happy, because niche titles like the ones in this collection are so often lost to history. Admittedly compared to modern turn-based RPGs they do feel a little lacking, but the charm of the musical theme and silly characters is undeniable. If you’re interested in older Nippon Ichi games or enjoyed the first Rhapsody game in Prinny Presents Volume 3, then NIS has got you covered.
A lovely pair of RPGs brought west for the first time
The musical theme and songs are really charming
The added English voices are a nice touch
Still looks surprisingly good
Combat is pretty simple
Reuses a lot of backgrounds
Struggles to compare to modern RPGs